What is hydraulic fracturing and how is it hurting Canada’s chance to move towards alternative sources of energy?
By Koy Tayler, Contributor
Prior to the 1970s, harvesting of natural resources was a new and developing industry, and many environmental regulations and social concerns about the environment did not exist. The continued complacency within the Canadian government towards the true, lived costs of harvesting energy is extremely worrisome. One has to wonder if politicians are truly naive to consequences associated with the consumption of fossil fuels or if, despite knowing so, are greedy enough to destroy the environment.
In the decades after the initial energy boom in Canada, corporations began moving towards an as yet largely untapped natural resource: natural gas. The growing consensus of the negative environmental consequences associated with burning fossil fuels put pressure on the energy industry. Traditional methods of harvesting energy were no longer a part of how society wanted to progress, consequently putting the industry and its morals into question.
The energy industry began developing a technique to extract natural gas. Hydraulic fracturing would allow them to market their industry as, to put it generously, environmentally conscious.
Hydraulic fracturing is much like it sounds. Large rocks below the surface are fractured to release shale gas, where it can then be liquefied to make transportation to market easier. Natural gas is cleaner than traditional fossil fuels such as oil and coal. This fact is the main way the public is being manipulated into allowing the energy industry and government use and destroy obscene amounts of resources to extract this material. As consumers of large amounts of energy it is easy to get comfortable and complacent when it comes to how and where our resources come from. This needs to change and citizens must take action.
Energy corporations do not advertise the external costs involved in the production of natural gas, not added to the dollar value that consumers pay, such as the environmental or health consequences of pollution. These are referred to as externalities and the non-disclosure of them presents an image to the public that hydraulic fracturing is a safe and a clean technique unlike the practices used in the Alberta Tar Sands; this, of course, is wrong. Fracking raises a number of concerns over health and quality of various aspects of life including the prosperity of sensitive ecosystems, industries such as agriculture, and local wells and aquifers.
Hydraulic fracturing uses publicly owned water. With 20 per cent of the world’s fresh water, Canada has a responsibility to protect and conserve its supply; yet, the process of fracking cannot use salt water due to its corrosive nature. With water shortages around the world, there’s a potential for over-consumption and depletion of resources in pursuing natural gas. DangersOfFracking.com informs that thousands of tons of sand and chemicals are combined with up to 8,000,000 liters of fresh water and shot at high velocities into the ground below to release the desired shale gas. That said, 540 billion litres of water were used for fracking in 2011 in the US, and that only accounted for 0.3 per cent of the country’s freshwater consumption. In addition to concerns about over-consuming water resources through fracking, there’s also a concern of contamination.
Scientific findings conclude that the large amounts of chemicals, sand, and contaminated fresh water left in the subsurface during hydraulic fracturing can leach into large areas around sites. If this does not deter advocates of natural gas, I don’t know what will.
The Canadian government relies heavily on the energy industry to supply the country with revenue. The country is sticking to its guns in spite of criticism and debate. The general consensus is that humans must reduce their consumption of fossil fuels, but Canada has made little effort in this area, which should leave many to shake in their oily boots.
Recent developments in British Columbia only magnify the country’s inability to assert its independence from the energy sector—the addiction that it cannot seem to quit. The government’s relationship to natural gas and fracking is like a smoker’s love of nicotine patches while trying to quit smoking. They use the toxic patches in the hopes that this will convince friends they’ll be successful in quitting smoking’s harmful habit; fracking and natural gas are similarly harmful. Liquefied natural gas and hydraulic fracturing are allowing the government to receive a slight dose of fossil fuels—like a hit of nicotine from a patch. The increase in production of natural gas does not mean that there is any less production of oil and coal, but only that they are adding more toxins into the environment. How this then gives politicians in power the idea that they can promote themselves as environmentally conscious is beyond reasonable. All they seem to do is create revenue in the hopes of balancing the financial budget.
Unfortunately the national obsession with energy that is predominant in Alberta is being taken up in other provinces like British Columbia. British Columbia is hooked. With large price tags and potential for job creation, the provincial government is looking to heavily invest both economically and environmentally in liquefied natural gas projects, most notably pipelines. Now, as conscious consumers, how such destruction can happen right under our noses is due to two words: advertisement campaigns. Recent commercials regarding pipelines and liquefied natural gas projects are upbeat and feature an abundance of thriving natural spaces. Campaigns almost revert back to the traditional concept of the nuclear family to help push the idea of increased natural gas consumption. Like most commercials they are lacking in full disclosure. They do not highlight any negatives. That there will be more tankers moving through extremely sensitive waterways along our coast, towing with them a high risk of destroying ecosystems both marine- and land-based, isn’t noted.
The lack of transparency between the provincial government and its citizens is concerning. The way I see it, all Canadians must act like the government’s doctor, both on the provincial and national level. Citizens must continue to check up on and question the government to make sure it is following the steps to conquer its addiction to fossil fuels. More and more individuals are realizing that they have an immense amount of influence over leaders’ decisions but more radical steps must be taken. Let’s face it, it’s a hard habit to quit and no one likes listening to their doctor when they say you have to give up the one thing you desire most. Right now the addiction still has all the power and citizens are left shaking their heads.